Nashville Predators fans can choose to look at the Preds' 5-3 loss in Game 1 in the Stanley Cup Final in one of two ways:
• They can be pleased with the fact that Nashville controlled play for much of the game, at one point holding the Penguins without a shot for a ridiculous 37:09.
• Or they can be worried that Nashville controlled play for much of the game, at one point holding the Penguins without a shot for a ridiculous 37:09 ... and still lost.
After all, a team as good as Pittsburgh will rarely be dominated as thoroughly as it was for much of Game 1, and Nashville still couldn't capitalize and steal a road game. If Pittsburgh can win a game like this, a frustrated Predators fan would be forgiven for thinking: What happens if the Pens bring their A-game?
But the first of the above mindsets should ultimately win out. The Predators have been the darlings of the postseason thanks to an impressive run to the Final, and if there was any doubt that they could skate with the defending champions, that's gone now. The Predators played an imperfect game -- Pekka Rinne can be better, and they can afford to be more disciplined -- but there are a lot of good things they can take away from Game 1.
The Preds got off to a good start, and even appeared to take the lead on a P.K. Subban goal that was disallowed upon review (an offsides review, no less). Pittsburgh opened the scoring for real on an Evgeni Malkin goal that Rinne should have stopped, took the lead on a Conor Sheary goal off a pretty pass from Chris Kunitz, and then took a 3-0 lead on a fluky goal with 16.1 seconds to go in the first period. Incredibly, that would be the last shot Pittsburgh would take until Jake Guentzel broke the 3-3 tie with 3:17 remaining in regulation.
In between, fans were treated to one of the most bizarre stretches in recent memory, with the Penguins -- as skilled an offensive team as there is in the NHL -- unable to register a shot on goal for more than 37 minutes. Meanwhile, the Predators crept back into the game: A Ryan Ellis power play goal gave them a heartbeat in the second period, a Colton Sissons power play goal in the third period made it a game and Frederick Gaudreau's first career goal just after a great Nashville penalty kill evened the score at 3.
To put the Penguins shot-less stretch into perspective, since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1957-58, no team had been held without a shot in a period in the Stanley Cup Final. But before Guentzel's goal, the Penguins were in danger of being held without a shot in back-to-back periods. And to put the Pens' bizarre win into perspective, Pittsburgh's 12 total shots on goal were the fewest for a winning team in Stanley Cup Final history.
After the game, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said he thought his team played well. That said: "We hate the score, we hate the result, but we'll move forward." And that's the thing: A team can do so many things right, as Nashville did in Game 1, but a few key moments can still provide the difference: a dumb penalty, a bad goal, an unfortunate bounce, an offsides only visible in super-slow-mo and so on. The right combination of things can counter an otherwise dominant performance, and it sucks to be on the wrong end of that. Nashville played well enough to win in Game 1, but Pittsburgh did just enough of their own to pull out the game.
Indeed, despite the final score, the Predators remained positive after the game, as did at least one player's spouse:
The @PredsNHL should not feel bad tonight!...they dominated this game! Things just didn't go our way... ����you guys!!! ��- Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) May 30, 2017
We'll surely hear a lot in the coming days about how Nashville should be confident heading into Game 2, and they should be. But after a weird series opener, the Preds have something even more useful: a better idea of what it'll take to beat Pittsburgh in this series. Because as they learned, simply keeping the Pens from shooting much won't necessarily do it.